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The Kinship of Secrets

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Member Reviews

Can you imagine leaving one of your children in your native country and moving to the US with the rest of your family? And then imagine that child finally coming to the US to live with you after 15 years?

While these may sound like questions from current day America immigration challenges, they’re actually the foundation for the novel, The Kinship of Secrets.

Taking place in Korea and the US over a 20+ year period (from the 50’s to the 70’s), we experience life in both countries primarily through the eyes of two sisters. Miran (the sister living in the US) and Inja (the sister living in Korea) as well as their families. 

Their lives growing up are significantly different, as you might imagine and are revealed through chapters told in alternating voices.

As an aside, I thought it was interesting to read about the atomic bomb fears in the US in the 50’s and the drills that took place in the schools (even in Miran’s nursery school). Another interesting parallel to the present day.

The book also explores the issue of identity for both sisters. Miran, who viewed herself as if she was “an American soul in a Korean body” and Inja, who refers to herself as an American Korean daughter. Will they be able to come to terms with their own identities?

The Kinship of Secrets was an interesting book, especially after reading the author’s note at the end. It explored a time in the US and world history that I was not that familiar with and was able to learn about.

Thank you to Netgalley and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt for the opportunity to read The Kinship of Secrets in exchange for an honest review.
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War divides families in so many ways. This has been a reality through history and continues to be a reality for so many throughout the world. #TheKinshipofSecrets is a story written based on Eugenia Kim's own family history - modified and fictionalized but, at the heart of it, true. This book tells the story of a family - specifically, two sisters - divided and then reunited. A powerful and moving book of war, survival, and the immigrant experience against the backdrop of the Korean War. 

Read my complete review at 

Reviewed for #NetGalley.
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Sorry, this one didn't really grab me. I think it's the omniscient narration - I didn't feel involved with / interested in the characters. DNF
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I wasn't sure what to expect, but I enjoyed reading this. An interesting story with fun characters. Well written.
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An interesting story of two Korean sisters separated and eventually united- one raised in America and one in Korea. Sad reality, and reflective emotional outlooks. I had some difficulty connecting with the story, as despite the many events the characters experienced, it felt a little monotonous. Thank you NetGalley for the e-reader copy. All opinions are my own.
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What a wonderful book. As I read it, I had a feeling it was based on the author's own family experience. And as I read it, I kept remembering something I was told when I visited Seoul...That Kimchi is made with 5000 years of mother's hands. Korean people are loving and strong! This is a book that kept my rapt attention. I couldn't put it down. It's a quick read of a really great story. Inja and Marin, two sisters, and their family, and the years spent apart, Heartbreaking, but in the end, it certainly works out, in a wonderful tale. Thank you to Netgalley and Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishers for the perusal. I loved it!
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Houghton Mifflin Harcourt and NetGalley provided me with an electronic copy of The Kinship of Secrets.  I was under no obligation to review this book and my opinion is freely given.

In 1948 Najin and Calvin Cho, with their young daughter Miran, travel from South Korea to the United States in search of better opportunities.  Having to make an impossible decision, Najin and Calvin leave their infant daughter, Inja, behind with her grandparents, uncle, and aunt.  As they struggle to earn enough money to send back to South Korea for the good of the family, all the while trying to save for the eventual immigration of their daughter, Miran has to navigate a new world in the shadow of the sister that was left behind.

As I was reading The Kinship of Secrets, I was struck by how strong of a connection I felt to the characters.  As a parent myself, I found myself wondering if I would have the courage to make the same choices that Najin and Calvin Cho had.  It was only after I read the author's note at the end that I knew why the story affected me so much.  The book is based on the true life experiences of the author's family and, although Eugenia Kim was not either of the children in the book, her siblings were intimately involved.  The strife between North and South Korea is widely known, but the suffering of the citizens of all of Korea is often overlooked.  The author did a good job of conveying the time period and the struggles that Koreans faced, both in their home country and as they tried to make their way in an unfamiliar land.  The Kinship of Secrets is a book that I would recommend to readers who enjoy historical fiction and I look forward to reading more by this author in the future.
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It’s 1948 when Najin and Calvin Cho travel from Korea to the United States with their daughter, Miran. They are seeking a better life, and they chose, sadly, to leave Inja, their other daughter, in Korea with family. 

Unexpectedly, war begins in Korea, and Najin and Calvin worry they will never see Inja again. 

Miran grows up in the United States, the land of opportunities, while her sister is living in the midst of war. Will their family ever be reunited?

Based on a true story, The Kinship of Secrets is a beautiful tale of family and sacrifice. The stark contrast between the early lives of the two young girls is vividly portrayed in the midst of a cruel war between the two countries where the sisters are living apart from each other. 

We hear from each of the daughters as our narrators, and the writing flows easily. Eugenia Kim writes poignantly with a stunning exploration of the sister bond. Family secrets are unearthed, and there is much to think about for those living amid war’s atrocities and on its fringes. The author’s note is not to be missed. 

Thank you to the publisher for the complimentary ARC. All opinions are my own.
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The book, about a South Korean family separated from reunion with their youngest child through what was planned to be a short visit to America to set up a church (as promised by their leaving their daughter to be raised by family in Seoul) that is delayed for years and years due to the Korean war and subsequent political issues. I liked this book. I was so immersed in the storyline. I loved that the pull of parents was subsumed by the love of the family that raises you, and the place that you know. This book told of grief that I could feel in my bones. Yet. There were so many small details, the secrets of the title, that sometimes took the book to almost maudlin places for me. The writing about them was sometimes so flowery and ungrounded, it didn’t fit with the book. Also, some periods were so detailed, while others flew by in significantly shorter chapters, feeling somewhat unbalanced. Finally, I understand that Christianity was a huge part of the history of this family, and of South Korea, but sometimes parts of this book felt a bit like  proselytizing. I don’t know how you write the largeness of religion into a family without selling it wholesale, which is not the purpose of a novel. Anyways, I’m going to read Kim’s first novel, and assume there will be another saga for this family in another decade or so!
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Having read other Asian novels and becoming totally engrossed in the story and culture; most recently, THE GIRL OF HUMMINGBIRD LANE and PACHINKO, I was excited to read Eugenia Kim's THE KINSHIP OF SECRETS and though I enjoyed it I never really connected with the characters or the culture.

The plot line was interesting; two sisters growing up in completely different cultures and being reunited as adolescence was compelling, I would have liked more of a concentration on Inja and Miran.  I did enjoy their relationship and love for each other.

There were many characters but I do not feel I knew any of them enough for a connection.  Perhaps I will read another book of Ms. Kim's as I did enjoy the writing.
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I adored the family element in this book. It was adorable seeing how Inja and Miran grew up so different because of where they were raised. Both Miran and Inja were beautifully developed and fleshed out. It was truly amazing seeing how their parents (the ones who had raised them) shaped up their characters in the future. We have Inja, an emotional and tender young girl, and Miran, a more practical and pragmatic character. They complemented each other perfectly.

This brings me to another aspect of the story I loved: the sisters' relationship. It wasn't easy for them to see each other as sisters — that's what growing up so far apart does. But nonetheless, we still saw them bond over so many things, which warmed my heart.

The side characters (Uncle, Aunt, Calvin, and Najin) were also amazing. I loved reading about their struggles and heartbreak. I just wish we had gotten to know more of their backstories...

One of my favorite aspects of the story has to be Inja's perspective on living in America. I love how she felt both at home and abroad. It was such an endearing portrait of migration. I found myself highlighting lots of passages related to this because the author's prose really shined the brightest in these snippets.

However, I feel like there are things that could have been better explored. I feel like the time jumps were too rushed. Or at least they weren't clear enough for me to get used to the idea that this was the last we'd see of eight-year-old Inja in Korea. It would have made the book longer, but I think I'd still read it. But I do understand why the author had to cut these passages short. 

Another small thing that bugged me while reading the chapters was how confused I'd get in the beginning. I would have loved it if we had gotten a small warning at the beginning of the chapter. Something like "Korea (or maybe Seoul...), Inja, 1960" you know? I got used to it in the end, but it took me quite a while to get acclimated to this. Especially because the chapters were told in alternating points of view.

Lastly, I wish we'd gotten to read more about Inja and Miran. I know it sounds silly, but I still felt like there was a wall between me and the girls. I wish I had spent more time with them and gotten to know them better!

All in all, I'm rating this book three-and-a-half stars. I can't wait to read more of Eugenia Kim's writing. She's a brilliant writer who has a lot of source material she could draw from her family history. I think I have found a new favorite writer. Her prose is superb!
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I truly loved The Kinship of Secret and I highly recommend it. . I loved that it is based on a true story and learned so much about the history of Korea during the time around the Korean war.Eugenia Kim did a fabulous job of bringing to life the two sisters that had been separated. The story line is totally engaging and compelling.  The book was difficult to put down and I did not want it to end.
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Eugenia Kim is such a beautiful writer, I fully expected to love this book and wasn't disappointed. Beautiful and sad, it paints a beautiful picture of two worlds and the complex consequences that can reverberate from a single decision.
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Tl;dr: The Kinship of Secrets is a compelling, interesting book that really sheds light on an important period in Korean history.

I wanted to read this after a great review for it popped up on my goodreads feed--and I'm glad I did!

The Kinship of Secrets is straightforward but very emotional. In 1948, right before the beginning of the Korean War, Najin and Calvin leave Korea for America. The cost of traveling is expensive and to show their love for Najin's family, and to prove their commitment to returning, they travel with their younger daughter, Miran, while leaving their older daughter, Inja, with the family.

Najin and Calvin settle in the suburbs of Washington D. C. and Calvin starts working with Voice of America, Najin starts making kimichi to sell to local businesses and watchrs Miran until she starts school, and then she works fulltime as well. In addition, both Najin and Calvin are extremely active in their local church. They save as much as they can to bring Inja to America, but the cost is high--and then the Korean War begins.

I'd studied the Korean War in school, and I am ashamed to admit that it was taught as a short, straightforward war, a small conflict that occurred during the rise of the Iron Curtain snd prior to the more complicated war in Vietnam.

Well, my teachers were certainly wrong! Though I knew the choice that led to North and South Korea separated families and caused enormous political and social changes in both countries, I never was told (or thought much about--and I should have!) about the way the war created an enormous refugee problem that led not just to extremely difficult living circumstances for many Koreans, but led many Koreans who had left after World War II and who had intended to return/bring family over to them unable to do so.

As a result of the war, Najin and Calvin are forced to wait--and wait-- to bring Inja over. She ends up spending the first fifteen years of her life living with her grandparents and aunt snd uncle, her parents abstract objects who send packages of goods from America that the family immediately sells for money.

Inja and her family are forced to flee Seoul during the war and live as refugees until they are able to return, with food and shelter in short supply and confusion about who is winning the war and which side is safest rampant. 

Inja's childhood is quite grim, but she loves her grandparents and adores her uncle, and although readers know that her parents are continually working to bring her to America, and long for her to be with them, Inja gradually starts to see her parents as something so remote she can't even understand the idea of actually seeing them in person.

In contrast to Inja, Miran grows up in thr bustle and boom of post WWII America, with a comfortable home, and no worries about where her next meal will come from, etc. Interestingly, Miran is hyperaware of her sister. In addition to having to help prepare packages to send to Korea (and act as translator at the post office, as although Miran's Korean is not great, English is her first and best language), her parents are constantly talking about Inja and what will happen when she joins them, with Najin becoming increasingly despondent as the years roll by.

Thus Inja, although living in a more precarious situation, feels relatively happy because she is devoted to her uncle, who in turn adores her. She is also frequently told family stories that help her realize that family separation (and great sorrow) are all too common, and her separation from her parents fades to an abstract concept.

Miran, on the othet hand, grows up acutely concious of the family situation and also feels like an outsider, all too aware of the differences between her family's lifestyle and those of her classmates. She wants more than anything to be like everyone else even as she knows it can't happen and is barraged with her mother's constant reminders that as soon as Inja joins them, the family will be complete. This feeling--of being an outsider, and of being part of a family that's defined by who they are without-- defines Miran's first fifteen years and herself.

By the time the conditions are right for Inja to finally travel to America, she doesn't want to go. She can't picture herself there, can't picture her parents or sister, and wants to stay with the family and life she knows. Her terror, confusion, and feelings of overwhelming despair when she leaves Korea and over the first few months in America are very well done. Inja's bewilderment with (and anger at) her parents (particularly her mother) leaves her feeling lost and alone but she consoles herself with a plan to one day return to Korea and her family there.

Meanwhile, Miran, who is finally reunited with the sister her parents' lives have revolved around, is happy to have her there, although she still feels like an outsider and wrestles with how confident Inja seems to be, as well as how much praise she earns for everything she does from what seems (to Miran) like everyone.

The story continues through both Miran and Inja finishing high school, attending college, and eventually living together in New York while Inja continues to plan her return visit to her family in Korea.

She's finally able to go and persuades Miran to come with her. Once she is back in Korea, she discovers that although it is still and will always be part of her, both she and Korea are different--but that no matter what, she will always define herself as Korean.

Miran, who still sees and defines herself as an outsider, likes Korea, but can't see herself as being from Korea, or even as being Korean. However, Miran has, to a large extent, accepted and embraced her feeling of being different, becoming active in political and social movements in 1970s America.

Overall, The Kinship of Secrets is a good read. Miran, Inja, and Najin are all interesting and compelling characters and while all three suffer the consequences of the family separation, Najin's grief for her "missing" daughter and Inja's despair when she realizes she has to leave Korea and fury when she arrives, not just over the new culture she isn't that interested in (at first), but at the parents who insist on love and respect even though she doesn't know them and wants to be with the family she does know and love, in particular, are pretty moving and definitely well written.

Having said that, those looking for a family saga will be disappointed, as although plenty of space is devoted to Inja and Miran's lives prior to being reunited, once they are, the pace picks up considerably. I liked this--adolescence and early adulthood might go by slow to you while it's happening, but later it seems like loads of major things happened in so, so short a time--but I don't think the pace change from very languid to hyper accelerated is going to be for everyone.

I thought the ever growing and ever more bleak reveals for why Najin and Calvin chose to take Miran to America instead of Inja were unnecessary and eventually way, way over the top. It's as if Ms. Kim didn't trust that readers would accept the basic premise of the novel and decided, as she wrote, to keeping adding reasons why Miran had to/needed to not only be taken to America but to always see and feel different. It wasn't neccessary and really dragged the book down, especially toward the end.
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THE KINSHIP OF SECRETS by Eugenia Kim is a unique look at immigration and assimilation in American society.  Kim tells the story of two sisters.  Miran, adopted after being abandoned by her mother, was a sickly baby and is brought to the United States by her immigrant parents, Najin and Calvin Cho.  Intending to return after a few years, they have left their year-old biological daughter, Inja, in Seoul with her maternal grandparents and uncle. Instead the Korean War occurs and the family is separated for well over a decade. Kim explains in an author's note that she based the novel partly on her own family's experiences, especially that of an older sister, and she uses alternating chapters to allow readers to experience the emotions of both daughters, eventually reuniting them. The differences in attitudes towards family members, dress, food, and language are all explored. Plus, Kim addresses "how emptiness could feel so heavy" and the range of feelings (bewilderment, resentment, loyalty, guilt, sacrifice and love) of children, parents and grandparents: "The comfort of being home, her Korean home, came from fulfilling the drive to belong. But the drive also heightened the pain of division when a single small thing marked one as different, such as Inja having a mother, but not having a mother; for Uncle, having her as a daughter who was not his daughter; for Miran, being Korean, yet not being Korean; and for her parents, having the eldest who was not the firstborn blood child."

THE KINSHIP OF SECRETS, a LibraryReads selection, received a starred review from Booklist and will be a popular addition to our Junior Theme selections like Amy Tan"s The Joy Luck Club.
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Rating: 4.5/5

Based on a true story, The Kinship of Secrets follows the lives of a family separated by war. Calvin and Najin Cho bring their sickly older daughter Miran with them to America, and leave their healthy younger daughter Inja behind, as a promise to Najin's parents that they will return. But as the war and political situation take longer than expected to clear, the Chos never return, and Inja's reunion with her immediate family keeps getting delayed.

Kinship follows the growth the two sisters from children, to their eventual reunion in adolescence, to their closeness in adulthood. Beyond just the sisters, it also weaves in the narratives of their parents, and their mother's family - whom Inja grew to love and know as her own before being, in her view, forcefully separated so that she could move to America to be reunited with the immediate family she only got to know through letters and mailed photographs. This book is about love and secrets kept in order to protect that love from the taint of hurtful knowledge.

Poignant and beautifully written, I loved the development of the plot, paced just right, from waiting for the Chos reunion to dreading Inja's separation with the family she'd known as her own. After the reunion, the years go by faster, because the wait is over, and the reunited family is both trying to get used to knowing each other beyond the letters and photographs, and Inja's parents try to make up for the lost time with their estranged daughter.

I loved the interweaving of languages, between English and little catches of Korean - particularly from Inja's story. Adding to the authenticity of the cross-continent experience, it also traverses the two spheres of the prosperous Promised Land of America and the war-torn Korea through language, food, and landscape.

This book not only deals with the consequences of a war that tore families apart (Calvin's family remain in North Korea and he is unable to see them again), but also with the unprecedented by-products of migration: Miran struggles with her Korean identity in an American setting until she visits Korea with Inja in their twenties, and Inja finds herself missing the whole and entire life she was torn away from, this pain causing her to initially nurse a quiet resentment towards her parents for first leaving her behind in Korea, and then tearing her away from her former life.
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Apparently based on the author's family, this book puts a human face on the Korean War.  The two sisters are separated when the parents bring one daughter to the US.  The other girl remains with relatives in Korea.  The story is told from the perspective of the two sisters. Besides learning some Korean history, the author shows the power of hope,love and perseverance in this well paced  poignant novel.
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Do you have a secret? If you had asked me that question before I read Kinship of Secrets I probably would have answered no. But, I now realize I do have secrets, in fact many. Things that I have seen no reason to share with others, things that I don’t really want others to know about me and my life, and many things that I have forgotten about. 

Author Eugenia Kim tackles the theme of secrets in her book The Kinship of Secrets. The story begins in 1948. Najin, her husband Calvin and one of their daughters, Miran, live in the United States. Their other daughter, Inja and Najin’s parents and brother live in Korea. The story follows the family members in Korea as their country is torn apart and the family in America trying to reunite with their daughter. The story spans about twenty five years as it follows mostly the lives of the daughters, Miran and Inja. 

I really enjoyed learning more about Korea and the time period right before the Korean War through the seventies. I learned not only about the history and a little about the politics, but also a lot about the Korean culture during this time period. I loved the theme of secrets and the power of secrets. I have never thought much about the secrets I keep and so I really enjoyed thinking more about them and why I keep them. This book also covers themes of identity, abandonment, and new cultures. 

While there was much I enjoyed about the book there were a few things that I struggled with. In the beginning of the story the two sisters are roughly 4 years old, one sister being about 10 months older then the other. The story is told in the perspective of these sisters in alternating chapters.  When they are four they did not talk or think as a four year old would. Age appropriate language, especially with children, seems to be a pet peeve of mine. The first half of the book is slow paced with not much action, which I have no problem with. But then the second half felt so rushed. At the very moment when I really felt like I would get to know the characters  it was rushed leaving me unsatisfied. I also felt like the author did a lot of telling me rather than showing me. I love a book that shows me and I leave coming away with something I figured out rather than the author telling me exactly what I should be getting out of the book. 

The Kinship of Secrets is a great book for learning more about Korea, especially right after World War II, for delving into learning new cultures and thinking more about secrets. If you are looking for a character driven book then this one might not be the one for you.
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I received this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. 

This story is partially based on the experiences of the author’s family and you will learn about Korea from the end of WWII to the 1970’s. Two sisters are separated at a very young age with Miran growing up in America with her parents and Inja left behind with an Uncle, Aunt and Grandparents. The novel details what led to their separation of over 10 years, the challenges of their reunion in America, and their return visit to Korea.    
The novel continues in alternating chapters about the lives of both families and the strain the separation puts on each family member.  Family secrets are uncovered and one theme is the way these secrets can tear a family apart or bind people together.   

The first part of the book is a little slow and the last part more hurried.  Overall, I learned a lot about Korea from reading this book and enjoyed getting to know the characters.
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What a saga!  I cannot even imagine leaving my child in another country for a few years that turns into 15 years!  Yet this is the decision Inja’s parents make. I was completely intrigued by Inja’s life in Korea. And then to journey with her to America!  My heart broke for her loss of her Korean family and the confusion of America. The Kinship of Secrets was a beautiful book. Plus I learned some Korean history.
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